N.S. health releases report into Halifax Infirmary COVID-19 outbreak responsible for three deaths

An unidentified man heads past the Halifax Infirmary in Halifax on Tuesday, April 24, 2012. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)

Nova Scotia health officials have released an updated report on the investigation into an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Halifax Infirmary this May.

In a release, the province says the outbreak at the QEII Health Sciences Centre's Halifax Infirmary site was declared on May 12, after a second inpatient in a non-COVID unit tested positive for COVID-19.

According to officials, subsequent testing found that 19 other patients on the same unit were also positive for COVID-19. The last positive result was recorded May 25, and the outbreak was declared over on June 22 when two incubation periods had passed with no new cases.

Nova Scotia Health says a total of 21 patients in the unit tested positive for COVID-19. Seventeen of those patients belonged to one of “two groupings of genetically linked viruses. In each of these two groupings, there was a patient who had been admitted with respiratory symptoms, but initially tested negative for COVID-19, and who was likely the source of infection for the other patients in the molecular grouping.”

Two patients were community-acquired cases that were not linked to the outbreak and did not transmit to any other patients, and there were two patients “whom typing of their COVID-19 strain could not be done for laboratory-related technical reasons.”

A total of six patients died during the outbreak. Nova Scotia Health says three died because of COVID-19, including one of the community-acquired cases, and three died with COVID-19 but other health factors were responsible for their deaths.

According to the report, most patients on the unit were unvaccinated at the time of the outbreak, and had at least one co-morbidity that made them vulnerable to infection and severe illness.

Health officials say the following measures were implemented during the outbreak:

  • The unit was closed to admissions and patients who were ready for discharge were sent home with public health follow up.
  • Patients who tested positive for COVID-19 were transferred to the COVID unit.
  • All patients remaining on the outbreak unit and any who had previously been transferred to other units/hospitals were put on contact and droplet precautions.
  • All patients who had been on the unit in the two weeks before the outbreak were tested at regular intervals to promptly identify new cases.
  • Facility-wide re-education on the importance of not over-relying on a negative COVID-19 test to remove precautions on symptomatic patients, keeping patients to their room/bedspace, and having patients maintain physical distancing and wear a mask when outside their room/bedspace.
  • Facility-wide testing did not reveal any additional cases outside of the outbreak unit.

Nova Scotia Health says they are taking the following actions as a result of the report:

  • A province-wide re-education program and reinforcement of learned/relearned best practices for our acute-care facilities.
  • Review of policies and inclusion of learned best practices into COVID-19 infection prevention and control and patient-care protocols.
  • Recommendation for single-patient rooms as the standard for new or renovated hospital builds.

“Health care-associated outbreaks of COVID-19, including in hospitals, have been common during the COVID-19 pandemic, and could continue to occur if preventive efforts do not remain at the forefront,” says the report. “Infection prevention and control measures must remain at the centre of all we do in order to keep our patients, visitors, and health care workers safe. We all have a role to play in these efforts and look to our patients and their families assisting us as we work to prevent the spread of infection in our facilities.”

Update on investigation into COVID-19 outbreak at QEII Halifax Infirmary, May 2021 https://t.co/roFnW5JtB5

— Nova Scotia Health (@HealthNS) October 6, 2021